World War II drama about Monsignor Renard, a Nazi-defying French priest. In 1940, the monsignor is newly arrived in his home town of Saint-Josse des Bois, which he left 20 years earlier to join the Catholic church. The village is filled with reminders of his former life -- including Madeleine, his one-time fiancee who has never forgiven him for choosing the church over her. It is also filled with Nazis. The German army has overrun France and is preparing to invade England using Sainte-Josse as an embarkation point. Against this turbulant background, Renard ministers to his flock as he is drawn ever deeper into the emerging resistance against the force of evil.
In Part 1, a Gestapo officer searching for an escaped English soldier orders Renard arrested and his church trashed. As the screws of German tyranny tighten, villagers respond with a mixture of fear, defiance and collaboration. The mayor bends over backwards to accommodate them. The sawmill owner Dufosse gladly accepts a contract to build invasion barges to use against England. The thief Gagnepain employs his craft to start a black market and also befriends Renard. Madeleine's daughter, Helene, befriends an amorous German soldier.
In Part 2, a chill wind blows through Saint-Josse as Germans callously shoot a French colonial soldier who is caught stealing bread. Madame Dufos belatedly discovers her Jewish ancestry, throwing her anti-Semitic family into turmoil. Another Jewish family tries to escape and meets treachery at the hands of a friend. A dissolute German archbishop visits Renard.
In Part 3, Helene discovers she is pregnant and won't say who the father is. One candidate is a German soldier; another, a French swell named Etienne, who is baiting the Germans with almost suicidal insolence. Meanwhile, Madame Dufosse bribes a local official to allow her to depart with her son for the presumed safety of the French puppet regime in Vichy, and the Germans stage a kangaroo court followed by an execution. As Saint-Josse slowly falls apart, Renard does what he can to give the people comfort through the familiar rituals of the church. He also gives them pride through acts of defiance, and hope through a campaign of increasinly violent resistance.